This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
The Jay Gruden regime in Washington has come to a close, quietly folding inward on itself so many times over that owner Dan Snyder made the only choice he could -- firing his head coach. You can argue all day long who is most to blame for the way things have gone sideways in Washington, with the team scoring 10 points in the last two weeks -- the only touchdown coming on a reverse early in the game against the Patriots. But what you can't argue is that Washington will look to make a splash in replacing Jay Gruden.
And the biggest question of all is will any big fish be foolish enough to take the bait? Washington's operations have been a hot mess for a hot second by now -- and Snyder and company can't be faulted for continuing to swing for the fences. Hires for Washington this millennium include Marty Schottenheimer (one and done), the ol' ball coach Steve Spurrier, Mike Shanahan and a desperate attempt to return to the glory days by bringing back Joe Gibbs after nearly a decade without coaching.
Perhaps the best hire Snyder made? That of Schottenheimer -- who was fired after one 8-8 season because...wait for it...Snyder didn't approve of some of the personnel decisions Schottenheimer had made during his one season with control of the team. The referenced personnel decision that upset Snyder? Cutting fullback Larry Centers. Nevermind that Washington finished their season 8-3 that season after stumbling to 0-5 out the blocks -- Schotty let a Pro Bowl fullback off the hook.
Welcome to this week's edition of Studs & Duds, where we try to build out the potential arguments for (and against) accepting the Washington head coaching gig this winter.
STUD - A young quarterback to mold in Dwayne Haskins
So you say you want the Washington gig, huh? I hope you're a big quarterback guy. Because Dan Snyder had a clear hand in strong-arming this organization into drafted the strong-armed (snicker...get it?) Haskins out of Ohio State in the 1st-round of this year's NFL Draft. Haskins has to the tools to be a good starter in the pros -- he was a little rough around the edges, as could be expected with just one year of starting experience at Ohio State. ESPN's Diana Russini reported this morning that Washington sources have told her that Haskins is “not ready now” but it could be “another year or even two years before he is.”
And while it was pretty apparent that the Washington coaching staff didn't particularly want Haskins, they did him right through the first few weeks of the season by keeping him on the field. If the performance against the New York Giants was any indication, Haskins wasn't ready. But he's a big ball of clay -- a promising arm and a sharp mind for a new head coach to hang their hat on. It's the most pressing question in any room: who is our quarterback?
Washington has their choice of the future -- with a strong backing from owner Dan Snyder. You know what you're getting into there.
DUD - Playing in the NFC East
Some bad news -- your roster is on the brink of collapse, you've got a ton of work to do in order to build around a rookie quarterback and you've got to play the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles twice a year, each. Philly has started slow and Dallas has stumbled with big tests against New Orleans and Green Bay -- but both now sit at 3-2 and are primed to push for double digit wins again this season. The Eagles and Cowboys have combined for 5 losing seasons between the two of them since 2010.
Washington? Six. By themselves. Washington last won 11+ games in 1991.
Dallas and Philly serve as significant barriers to postseason success for a new head coach -- who will take one look at this roster and see how much work there is needed to be done.
STUD - Never-ending payroll budget
Money can't buy happiness -- but it sure as hell can buy you some big free agents to play for your club. The aggressiveness of Snyder and company will empower any head coach, knowing full well if he's identified a difference maker and brings it to management, they'll get a job done by whatever means necessary. It's better than the situation in Cincinnati, where the Bengals are still rubbing pennies together hoping to create more.
Throwing money at problems isn't a solution, but it's a better alternative to pretending the problem doesn't exist.
DUD - The OL is teetering on the brink
Trent Williams is one of the best offensive tackles in all of football. He's refusing to touch the field for Washington. Former 1st-round bust Ereck Flowers is holding down the left guard position and, while not as horrid as his play elsewhere, shouldn't be considered a long-term starter. OG Brandon Scherff's contract expires at the end of the season. Would Washington hit him with the franchise tag? Or are they willing to let him test the market? If they let him walk out the door, write it in Sharpie -- he won't come back.
And so a coach walking into the situation will need to know just what he's signing up for from a supporting cast situation: how much are you willing to re-invest in the offensive line? Because without significant help here, Dwayne Haskins is being set up to fail.
STUD - You can ride with this DL
This team has some HORSES up front. The offensive line may be showing signs of distress, but not this defensive group. Jonathan Allen, Da'Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, 1st-team all-underappreciated pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan and a 2019 1st-round pick in Montez Sweat? This group is -- Kerrigan aside -- young and talented. Consider this the foundation of Washington's next generation of defense -- which will provide plenty of appeal to a would-be coach hiring defensive coordinators. A piece here, a piece there...it's reasonable to believe that Washington's defense could be a quick overhaul and a few pieces away from becoming the backbone of the team.
The team can cut Josh Norman this offseason for a casual $3M cap penalty -- it'd probably be a good move and set Washington up to add a big cornerback to the roster. Snyder blows his nose with more than that.
DUD - Daniel Snyder and Bruce Allen
Ah, yes. The elephant in the room. Anyone signing up to coach for Snyder's team must inherently work with Snyder and his right hand man, Bruce Allen. Allen has been atop the food chain in Washington since 2010, when he was brought in to serve as the Executive Vice President and General Manager of the team. Allen has survived both the Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden tenures this decade, as well as the Scot McCloughan era as general manager from 2015-2016 -- the only two winning seasons for Washington under Gruden.
McCloughan was fired in March 2017, with ongoing alcoholism demons being referenced as a motivating factor. Except no players in Washington ever backed the reports that McCloughan was showing up drunk in the locker room. The sinister underbelly of the situation? Rumors that there was animosity inside the Washington organization from Allen to McCloughan because McCloughan helped build a winning roster -- something Allen has yet to do.
This second-hand report of McCloughan's dismissal from Washington via former NFL player Michael Robinson is one I'd imagine any potential new employee would find rather unsettling:
"(McCloughan) knew the players loved him, and he started feeling the hate from Bruce Allen right around, well, he’s been feeling it, but when they didn’t let him speak (to reporters) at the Senior Bowl...he knew that he was on his way out," Robinson alleged in the spring of 2017, shortly after the McCloughan firing.
"He said it was after a draft meeting, after the combine, Bruce called him up to his office and was just like, ‘Nobody likes you in this building. Nobody wants you here.’ And Scot was like, 'Well, I guess I’m out of here.'"
Allen is 42-75 as an executive in Washington and is seemingly firmly entrenched in the hierarchy. You want to coach in Washington? You'd better make Allen equally as happy as you make Snyder.